Kevin Pietersen’s turbulent relationship with the England and Wales Cricket Board has taken one of its most dramatic steps yet, with the batsman’s shock retirement from one-day and Twenty20 internationals.
Pietersen, 31, has found himself at the centre of several awkward situations since making his England debut in 2004, but this is arguably the most serious, ending the limited-overs career of the country’s most natural ball-striker and bankable star.
Pietersen himself made the decision to withdraw from 50-over cricket but the real intrigue lies in the ECB’s decision to effectively retire him from the shorter format against his will.
Pietersen, man of the tournament when England won the World Twenty20 in the West Indies two years ago, wanted to spearhead the defence of the that crown in Sri Lanka later this year but that offer was declined by the board.
They have decided that centrally contracted players must make themselves available for both limited-overs formats or neither and, with no compromise possible, it was announced that Pietersen would continue as a Test specialist only.
It means Pietersen, who has 127 ODIs and 36 T20 caps to his name, departs the scene having hit back-to-back centuries in his last two one-day appearances against Pakistan.
Announcing the news, Pietersen said: “After a great deal of thought and deliberation, I am announcing my retirement from international one-day cricket.
“With the intensity of the international schedule and the increasing demands on my body, approaching 32, I think it is the right time to step aside and let the next generation of players come through to gain experience for the ICC World Cup in 2015.
“I am immensely proud of my achievements in the one-day game, and still wish to be considered for selection for England in Test cricket.
“For the record, were the selection criteria not in place, I would have readily played for England in the upcoming ICC World Twenty20.”
In the absence of any reaction from team director Andy Flower, England cricket’s managing director Hugh Morris offered the ECB’s take on events.
He put on record the organisations thanks for Pietersen’s efforts – which yielded 4,184 runs at 41.84 in ODI cricket and 1,176 runs at 37.93 in the 20-overs game – but made little attempt to hide a sense of dissatisfaction that the news comes so close to England’s World Twenty20 campaign.
“ECB is disappointed by the timing of Kevin’s decision less than four months before we defend our ICC World Twenty20 title,” said Morris.
“Kevin is a world-class player and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his efforts and we look forward to his continued contributions to the Test match side.”
Morris also took the chance to offer some rationale for the decision not to consider Pietersen for Twenty20 matches, in spite of his willingness to play.
He added: “As the programming and planning for ODI and T20 format cricket are very closely linked we have a selection policy that means that any player making himself unavailable for either of the one-day formats, rules himself out of consideration for both formats. The selectors will now replace Kevin in both the ODI and the T20 squads.”
This ruling has not explicitly acknowledged by the ECB before, with the last senior man to retire from one-dayers being Andrew Strauss, who was already out of the Twenty20 set-up.
Rumours that Pietersen was planning to abandon ODIs can be traced back to the end of the 2011 World Cup but, when asked directly ahead of the first Test last summer he embarked on a long and occasionally tetchy defence of his hunger to perform across the formats.
Pietersen infamously ended his brief stint as national captain after a rift with then coach Peter Moores became public knowledge in early 2009, and has been involved in other controversies since then.
He was left out of England’s one-day squad for the first time due to to poor form in 2010.
Another tweet, criticising Sky TV commentator Nick Knight earned him a fine of between £2,000 and £3,000.
He also drew veiled criticism from Flower after leaving last year’s World Cup with an injury England medics believed was manageable.
But none of those situations resulted in England losing the services of one of their star performers, and the effects of yesterday’s news may only be truly appreciated when the team touch down in Colombo to defend the only ICC global trophy they have ever won.